Anyone who loves the land and the landscape fears for the future of the planet. But if small children grow up with a love and understanding of growing things and an increasing awareness of the difference they can make, then I think we have cause for hope.
My Grandpa seemed intent that I should enjoy the hours I spent with him on his allotment. That time would be short enough – he died when I was just eight years old. But my visits to his patch during those years were enough to convince me that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
Now I have grandchildren of my own. When the first one came a long, I dreamed of giving him experiences like those my grandfather gave me. But I worried that my own passion might overwhelm him and put him off. I had been so careful with my daughters, making sure they spent time outdoors, but taking care not to burden them with a piece of ground until they asked for it (which they did every spring… and the interest lasted perhaps three weeks before other distractions diverted them). I tried not to spout Latin names or make them do things they didn’t enjoy. As a result, I probably underplayed my role as a gardener, rather than forcing it upon them. That said, now they’re grown up with children of their own, they both enjoy having a garden – and the handy fact that their dad knows a bit about it and is on hand with advice and, on occasion, labour when needed. So perhaps I didn’t do too badly after all.
All four of my grandchildren love being outdoors, whatever the weather. We put our wellies on and check to see if the chickens have laid any eggs, pick raspberries and strawberries, and roll down the mound we’ve made in the corner of the wildflower meadow.
About a year ago, the eldest told me he wanted to grow vegetables. We sowed radishes, lettuces, peas, beans, carrots and sweetcorn. Later we planted out tomatoes. I left instructions and answered questions as the weeks went by. They looked after them, and the sheer joy they experienced when they harvested – and ate – their first radishes made it an emotional moment, both for them and their grandpa.
More on gardening with children:
- 10 tips for gardening with children
- 10 gardening projects for kids
- Five summer garden projects for kids
Discover my tips for getting children into gardening, below.
Encourage children outdoors
It doesn’t matter if they don’t do anything constructive. Let them handle worms, show them that spiders, wasps and bees are amazing and unlikely to do them any harm. Look for woodlice, and have snail races! Wildlife is to be cherished and is endlessly fascinating.
Grow veg with kids
Start on a small scale. If the patch of ground is too big, or under a tree in a shady root-ridden spot where nothing wants to grow, then children will understandably be put off. Let them grow the things they like to eat (it surprised me that mine like radishes!) in the best spot in your garden.
Dig a pond with your children
Children will be astonished at the amount of wildlife that visits a pond, from pond skaters and water boatmen to dragonflies, frogs, toads and newts. Let them fish with a net and see what they can catch. Make a tiny vivarium to raise froglets at close quarters. Even a small container pond will do – teach children how to be safe around ponds and supervise them when playing around it.
Feed the birds
Set up a bird feeding station for winter, where children can see what’s going on. A small pair of binoculars means they can watch from the house. Put up some nest boxes in time for spring, and if you can run to the expense, get one with an integral internal camera. They – and you – are sure to be enthralled.
Start a cacti collection
Cacti and succulents do best in bright light and can cope with neglect – after all, it’s easy to forget to water house plants when you have homework and other distractions. The collecting bug may encourage kids to add more – and the grandparents will never be short of ideas for presents!
Get schools involved
Encourage your children’s school to join the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. Every school in the land should be aware of the importance of nature and the vital role that growing things can play in the National Curriculum. It’s important!